When you think of Japanese cuisine, what do you normally think of? Maybe sushi and teriyaki-dipped chicken, or how about sitting at a big table with people you don’t know with a chef cooking your meal in front of you? Like many other foods around the world, America has changed and tweaked traditionally Japanese dishes to suit the American palate and way of life. You probably won’t find similar creations in Japan.
“Most often, a set meal that combines white rice, miso soup and main ingredients only called side dishes is eaten daily,” explains Chief Akinobu Matsuo, Culinary Director at Marugame Udon. The result of playing with food? Pseudo-Japanese cuisine that is not really eaten in Japan.
In fact, sushi is not eaten every day in Japan. “It’s a misconception that Japanese people eat sushi every day. Japanese people eat sushi for parties or for a special event,” says Manabu “Hori” Horiuchiexecutive chef of Kata Robata in Houston.
Here are some other Americanized Japanese dishes that no one actually eats, or eats very differently in Japan, according to Japanese chefs, experts and locals.
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It’s probably no shocker, but California rolls didn’t originate in Japan. The American favorite was actually born in the 1960s at Tokyo Kaikan, a restaurant in the Little Tokyo neighborhood of Los Angeles. According to the story, the restaurant’s chef was looking for a substitute for tuna and used avocado and cooked crab to give the roll a seafood flavor without using raw fish, which most Americans weren’t with. still comfortable.
Sunica Du, an Asian designer and illustrator and owner of the SunicaDesign.com website, who has lived in the United States and Japan, says this is a common misconception. “In Japan, sushi is all about simplicity and highlighting the fish. You won’t find spicy tuna or California rolls here.” They are American inventions, she says. “Despite that, I still enjoy some of the unique sushi rolls here in America, like the avocado or cream cheese rolls.”
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Tempura, at least as consumed by Americans, is also not a common dish in Japan. Victory Yap, founder and editor of Honest Food Talks, says that while tempura is a dish often associated with Japanese cuisine, its preparation and presentation in the United States can differ significantly from that in Japan. “In Japan, tempura is usually served as a simple dish, with just a few pieces of lightly breaded and fried shrimp or vegetables,” says Yap. “In the United States, tempura is often served in a larger dish, such as a sushi roll or a bowl of rice.”
Sweet green tea
Green tea, or matcha, is a trendy ingredient that Americans will add to almost anything thanks to the impressive list of health benefits and deep grassy flavor. But the Japanese never drink sweet green tea. According to Matsuo, “The Japanese don’t add sugar to green tea. They prefer bitter tea instead.”
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Another sugar-laden ingredient never found in Japanese pantries is commercial teriyaki sauce. This thick brown sauce is often poured over chicken, steak, vegetables, and anything else Americans can think of, but in Japan it’s rarely used or would be unrecognizable.
Matsuo explains that it’s too sweet for the Japanese palette. “In Japan, teriyaki is a term used for the process of roasting chicken or pork, and very rarely includes a sauce.” Yap agrees, saying, “Teriyaki sauce is used in Japanese cuisine, but it’s not usually used to flavor chicken. Instead, teriyaki is more commonly used as a sauce for fish or meat dishes, and is usually made with soy sauce, mirin, and sugar.
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Hibachi Restaurant Offers
In America, hibachi restaurants are a staple in most communities. Diners sit around a flat griddle with other people they don’t know, while a chef prepares their meal of steak, shrimp, chicken, vegetables, fried rice, noodles and other American favorites. But in Japan, the hibachi-style grill is used to make okonomiyaki and monjayaki, which are savory pancake dishes made with wheat flour batter. Both dishes have toppings and other ingredients mixed in like cabbage and sprouts to make a heartier meal.
Spicy fish sushi rolls
In Japan, dishes are prepared with very few spices. So, not all sushi rolls containing ingredients like spicy tuna, spicy amberjack, or spicy crab are served. “There are very few spices in Japan,” says Horiuchi. Instead, the Japanese prefer to eat sushi with just a few ingredients such as seaweed, raw fish, and vinegar rice.
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Sushi sauces and additional ingredients
American sushi is often served with a ton of extra ingredients like spicy mayonnaise and eel sauce. In Japan, sauces are frivolous ingredients that are not added to sushi. Additional toppings like avocado, mango, crunchy bits, and tobiko are also never added in Japan.
A version of this story was originally published in August 2022. It has been updated to include new information.
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